Mommies in Black and White

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Category: Culture (Page 2 of 5)

Confessions of an African Hockey Mom

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Hockey is not the sport I grew up watching. Basketball was the sport of choice in our house and my first love was dance. My father thought hockey meant skipping school. He used to say, “I better not catch you girls playing “hockey.”” We all knew he meant “hooky,” but it was too fun to not correct him. The first time I actually saw a live hockey game was when our team danced on the ice between periods. Little did I know, I’d marry a man who is a huge hockey fan. My husband played the sport since he was five, and his father before him, and I’m sure his grandfather did too. I joke with my Liberian family and say it’s genetic.

When our oldest turned four it was time to teach him how to skate. My husband gave me a shopping list a mile long and sent me off to the sporting goods store. I was about to be initiated into hockey mom status. The shopping spree and final bill left me in shock.

Next step, training. For me. It takes a professional hockey parent to know how the pieces of equipment fit together and in what order they need to be added to the puzzle. Imagine learning on a squirming four year old boy.

Sticker shock and puzzle pieces gave way to joy. Joy at seeing the game through my son’s eyes. Joy at the love of the game expressed through his smile, excitement and connection with his teammates. Love for the game grows in me a little bit more each time I wrestle with the gear. Okay, maybe not then, but after, when he’s up and running onto the ice.

To be fair, I’ve had to learn some lessons the hard way. So, I’m sharing for all those newcomers for which “hockey” is a foreign word, or maybe implies skipping school…

  • Breezers are not only really good cocktails but they’re also protective hockey shorts
  • Hand warmers, an electric vest, a Parka, a blinged out knit headband, and great Sorrel boots are essential for your health
  • Don’t be a fool, leave your leopard print jeans at home and rock some snow pants
  • Grab the mini cowbell that has your child’s name and number and ring that bell like it’s going outta style
  • Icing is a penalty – I’m still not sure what kind, but I’d rather have it on a cake
  • The Hockey Shack will be the closest thing to a day spa that you experience for a long time
  • Grab a blanket – indoor rinks are just as cold as outdoor
  • You can fit two hockey bags in your trunk – it’s like a jigsaw puzzle
  • You’ll have skate sharpening and coffee runs down to a science
  • Rink Ratting is another term for informal scrimmage
  • Breathe, if he’s the first Liberian-Scandinavian to play professional hockey, he’ll mention you

Whether my children play this sport for a short period of time or make it a lifelong career, I wouldn’t have my initiation or our family’s experience any other way. I’ll just keep dancing and cheering by the boards, rocking my snow pants and mad cowbell skills!

A Lesson from the Orange Street Vendor

I’m a first generation immigrant who fled Liberia in the early 1980’s with my parents to escape civil conflict. When my parents fled they brought only a handful of pictures, but they brought a wealth of stories. Oral history and storytelling is a huge part of my Liberian heritage.

These stories are locked inside my parent’s minds and passed from generation to generation. Some of these stories are solemn, about surviving the civil war. Others are humorous, like Spider Stories — about a trickster spider who always ended up with a taste of his own medicine. My parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents all had stories about our family’s beginnings, faith and the importance of life. My favorite life lesson story, shared by my mother, was about the orange street vendor.


 

The Orange Street Vendor

Every morning before the sun rose an old Liberian woman, who sold oranges, would set up her stand on the street corner and meet with her other vendor friends.

The old woman took pride in how she peeled the orange and how people felt once they bought her oranges. One particular customer, a pregnant woman, craved this vendor’s oranges. The old woman had a special technique for cutting the orange ornately, so that you could squeeze the top of the orange and drink right from it. The pregnant woman would summon her husband and send him to the old woman’s stand to buy those specific oranges. After several trips back and forth to the street vendor’s stand, the husband told the old woman that he would buy the rest of her oranges.

The old woman looked at him cross and said “no.”

The rich husband asked her, “Don’t you want the money?”

The old woman responded, “It’s not the money that brings me to my stand every day. I look forward to setting up my stand. I take pride in how I peel the oranges and cut them for my customers.” She explained, “This is my purpose in life. If I sold everything to you, what would I do with the rest of my day?”


 

My mother helped me see the lesson: no matter where you are in life or what your circumstances, everyone wants to feel worthy. Feeling worthy is priceless. Money cannot replace the sense of fulfillment we have from interacting with others, from finding and serving a purpose.

Our oranges can be anything, but for me, as a teacher and a mother, they are my children, my own and those I am entrusted with in my classroom. We have the privilege of working with our oranges, of shaping them and molding them. Some days it would be great to sell them all to the highest bidder, but without them what would be our purpose in life?

Painting by Dehru Cromer

Painting by Dehru Cromer

Next time you get up in the morning ask yourself: how will I cultivate my oranges today?

Lost in translation: Trapped in a closet

Often, when refugees reach safe harbor with relatives in the United States there is a sense of bittersweet relief. The circumstances can be unimaginable.

In the late 90s, Liberia was in another Civil War led by dictator, Charles Taylor. My  grandmother and her sister fled to Minnesota in order to escape Taylor’s regime. They found a safe haven at my aunt and uncle’s, the same place my family was staying.

My  grandma and her sister were often isolated during the day while all the grown folks went to work and my sisters and I went to school. They loved every soap opera on TV and admired Oprah.

One day after school my grandma and her sister had concerned looks on their faces. I thought something terrible must have happened back home. They shared with me that Oprah was going to have this woman named Ellen on her show. They explained, Ellen was “trapped in some closet and is going to come out of it.” They were praying for her. I smiled, but was too embarrassed to explain that Ellen was not literally trapped in “a closet.” I left the explaining to my uncle.

When my uncle got home from work he explained to our elders what “coming out of the closet” meant. They laughed and asked, “Why didn’t they just say that in the first place?” With tears of laughter my two elderly beacons of hope settled a little further into life in America.

#ellendegeneres #liberia

 

I’m bi-what?!!

A simple, silly at-home conversation with my two beautiful boys led to some profound insight from my four year old. It started with a question from my seven year old, “Mommy, I’m multicultural right?” I explained that they can identify with being multicultural due to their Liberian and Scandinavian heritage, but some people might call them biracial.

Without missing a beat, my four-year-old shouted in horror, “I’m bi-what?!” He’d never heard the term biracial before. I repeated the word and my four-year-old son said, “No I’m not, I’m myself.”

I reflected on our brief conversation. Why should I put a colorist label on my child? Whether he’s biracial, multicultural, or mixed, my own children know their true identity. They’re themselves. The truth is that our society has had these labels on our mixed race children [insert label here] since the Atlantic Slave Trade. Our system(s) and need for categorization perpetuates their use.

This conversation with my boys was very powerful for me. My oldest who’s starting to understand himself and his multicultural heritage is now fielding questions from his peers like “Why don’t your parents  match?” and [cringe] “What are you?” It’s one thing for me to field those questions from moms at the hockey rink or the soccer field, but another for my seven-year-old son to get them at school.

I look back at my courtship with my husband and remember that people used to send us articles about biracial children that warned, “your kids will have no sense of identity.” People would walk up to us when I was pregnant and say, “You’re going to have the most beautiful mulatto babies,” as if it were a compliment. Newsflash – it’s horribly offensive, especially to a pregnant woman. Mulatto means mule in Spanish. You just called a pregnant woman’s unborn child a mule.

No matter how hard I try to protect my children, hard conversations about race, about how their peers perceive them, about how their peers’ families see them, and about how society sees them will be an ongoing reality. We are already living this reality, my husband and I, and we plan to face it head on.

 

 

 

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